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Spotting After Taking Emergency Contraception

Published: June 18, 2012
Dear Spotting After Taking Emergency Contraception,

Hello. I thought I began my period a few days ago but the flow was lighter than usual also it was darker and smelled really bad so I told a friend and she said I could be spotting which could mean that I'm pregnant... but I took an emergency contraceptive a day after having unprotected sex and that could also be a side effect, right? I was wondering how long does this 'period' or 'spotting' would last? Or could this be my actualy period triggered by the emergency contraceptive? And if this is just a 'pre-period', when will I get my real period? I also took a home pregnancy test this morning and it came out negative. Can it be trusted or should I go and take a blood test? Thank you for your help!


Dear Spotting After Taking Emergency Contraception,

After you take emergency contraception (EC) it is normal for your next period to different than it is usually is. It may come earlier or later than it normally does. It is also possible for it to be heavier, lighter, more spotty or the same as usual. So what you are experiencing could certainly be your period that is just presenting a little differently than it normally does because of taking EC. As for your concerns about being pregnant, you did take the EC within 24 hours of having unprotected sex (which is very good as it is most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex), it sounds like you did get your period, and you did had a negative pregnancy test, so FX does not think you have much cause for concern.

As a general rule, if someone who has taken EC does not have their period within 3 weeks of taking EC, or has symptoms of pregnancy (such as frequent urination, headaches, inexplicable fatigue, a missed period, nausea, or sore or enlarged breasts), that person should take a pregnancy test and/or schedule an appointment with their doctor.

As for what to expect with your menstrual cycle, women who take EC frequently may find that their periods are irregular. However, infrequent use should not alter your periods for the long-term. Know that EC should not be used as an ongoing method of birth control, so if you find that you are often taking it, please speak to a doctor about an ongoing method of birth control that will be best for you (i.e., the pill and condoms).

Spotting that could indicate pregnancy (that your friend is referring to) is known as implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding generally occurs 10-14 days after conception, and therefore occurs a little earlier than a period. It is thought to happen when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus. Implantation bleeding is generally much shorter and lighter than a menstrual period. About 20-30% of pregnant women experience implantation bleeding and most women who do have it characterize it as just a few drops of blood. Rarely do women have enough bleeding with implantation bleeding to confuse it with a period. All that said, it is more likely your bleeding is a result of menstruating than pregnancy.   

Keep in mind that FX cannot make any definitive diagnoses about the situation, so if you continue to have concerns about your period or that you might be pregnant, you should meet with your doctor. If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center or Planned Parenthood. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.

FX also wants to remind you that there is a lot to consider when it comes to being sexually active, including how to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancies. For more information on making sure that you are truly sexually ready in all areas (including how to protect yourself in the future from unwanted pregnancies or the transmission of STDs), read our answer to Thinking of Having Sex – What Do I Need To Know? You can also read Planned Parenthood’s articles Safer Sex (“Safe Sex”) and How Pregnancy Happens.

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